100 Must-Read Books: The Essential Man’s Library

by A Manly Guest Contributor on May 14, 2008 · 1,239 comments

in Books, Travel & Leisure

Amazon Listmania: The Essential Man’s Library Part II

Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins

Just like The Da Vinci Code, but on hallucinogenic mushrooms…and written 30 years prior. A psychedelic story of a wandering musical troupe that settle down to open “Captain Kendrick’s Memorial Hot Dog Wildlife Preserve,” and somehow get mixed up with the Vatican. The motto:

“The principal difference between an adventurer and a suicide is that the adventurer leaves himself a margin of escape (the narrower the margin, the greater the adventure).”

White Noise by Don Delillo


This National Book Award winner was more right on in 1985 than Delillo could have possibly known. The drug Dylar is the supposed answer to man’s fear of death, yet causes users to lose their minds. This is an extremely enjoyable read, particularly relevant and funny in its examination of how people act in a climate of fear (hello Homeland Security) and under a “hail of bullets” from advertisers and imaginary enemies alike. The lesson: secretly hold out for the wonder drug and/or fountain of youth, but live each day like it might be your last…in a good way…and still show up to work unless you really, really know it is your last day on earth.

Ulysses by James Joyce

Just buy it and put it on your bookshelf and remember this from the book: “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” We suspect that even those who have written their doctoral thesis on the book only pretend to have read every word, but a good friend of mine said not to question an academic on things of this nature, so if you encounter someone who has built a career around Joyce, don’t ask if they actually read it.

The Young Man’s Guide by William Alcott

The Young Man’s Guide is a thorough resource which deals with the formation of character in a young man with regard to the mind, manners, and morals. It also has a good amount of insight on the topics of marriage and business. A strong foundational book for a young man asking the practical questions of how to live life while minimizing both terrible temporal mistakes and, well…the wrath of God. As is stated in the introduction, it is Alcott’s intention to influence young men such that they contradict the stereotypes of thoughtlessness, rashness and an unwillingness to be advised or taught. Alcott was prescient in writing this book and would probably roll over in his grave if he saw the modern race of man-babies that play X-Box for 20 hours each week and are perpetually bartending their way through junior college.

Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy

This Western novel written in 1985 is not only considered to be McCarthy’s personal masterpiece, but also one of the greatest books of the 20th century. As the title suggests, the story is marked by extreme violence and contains many religious references. Isn’t that what the history of man is all about?

Seek: Reports from the Edges of America & Beyond by Denis Johnson

Through a collection of short stories that take you from a Bikers for Jesus convention to the 13-year-olds with semi-automatic machine guns in Liberia, Johnson uses rich prose to examine the role of a man as a potted plant, observing his surroundings and soaking it up. In this story, horrific violence in seeming other worlds contrasts with the comparatively safe process of self-discovery in different U.S. subcultures. This will absolutely open your eyes to the simultaneous beauty and horror of our world, and remarkably, he does it without sounding condescending, jaded and bitter…he is just there, and you will absolutely see everything that he sees.

“In the Ogaden, life comes hard, but these have won through yet another day, unlike all the others they’ve lost to sickness, famine, massacres, battles. The villagers sit close together, everyone touching someone else, steeped in a contentment that seems, at this moment, perpetual. It occurs to the writer that the secret way to happiness is in knowing a lot of dead people.”

Crime And Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Crime and Punishment

One of the most amazing aspects of this masterpiece is that it was written by Dostoevsky as part of his resolve to deal with some serious financial hardships. The lesson isn’t to quit your job and write that novel you’ve been meaning to write…but many of us can relate to that sense of personal ambition and pride in the face of fear and financial stress. Again, take the moral lessons from the characters’ mistakes, don’t model your life after them.

“‘Oh God, how loathsome it all is! and can I, can I possibly….No, it’s nonsense, it’s rubbish!’ he added resolutely. ‘And how could such an atrocious thing come into my head? What filthy things my heart is capable of.’”

…Ah, the classic moral dilemma arising from something as simple as a justified murder.

Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse

The mysterious drifter is always an intriguing protagonist. One of Hesse’s best known works, Steppenwolf gained much popularity through the Beat and hippy genenerations of the 50s and 60s which related to his common theme of search for spirituality outside the boundaries of society.

The Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry by Christine De Pizan

An example of what we can learn about being better men from the perspective of a woman (de Pizan pictured above, instructing her son). She wrote this classic in the 15th Century, a time period not known as the peak of gender equality. Of course, we can project this into our work and not use the text as the foundation to build a neighborhood militia group.

“No one is afraid to do what he is confident of having learned well. A small force which is highly trained in the conflicts of war is more apt to victory: a raw and untrained horde is always exposed to slaughter.”

The Art of Warfare by Sun Tzu

Written in the 6th Century, this has been one of the most influential texts in strategy and planning, especially emphasizing an ability to adapt to changing circumstances and environments rather than having a rigid plan and staying the course through to disaster.

“So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will fight without danger in battles.
If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.
If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.”

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Considered by many to be the greatest work of fiction, it is a goldmine of quotes surrounding a central theme that could be summed up by “all that glisters is not gold.” This is also a great reminder that it is great to be a dreamer and a visionary, but remember to keep (at least somewhat) grounded in reality.

“I would do what I pleased, and doing what I pleased, I should have my will, and having my will, I should be contented; and when one is contented, there is no more to be desired; and when there is no more to be desired, there is an end of it.”

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

This one is tough, because you want it but you don’t…but a wise friend once said, upon being flattered for his world travels, “Yeah, well you go to all these places always knowing that one day you will come back to somewhere.” We all have friends who are, or some of us may be personally, drifters, soaking up each place like a sponge, and then leaving for the next whistlestop. It is the classic battle between stability/same vs. mobility/change. In the end, the self-centered opting out of human interaction might not be quite as romantic as you hoped. All good things in proportion dear friends. His realization (“Happiness Only Real When Shared”) is the great counter-balance to that primitive urge to walk alone into the wild. Or at least think about the fact that snow melts, and rivers get higher.

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

This epic vision of afterlife is valuable because it challenges us to examine the roots of what we believe and why, and the role of faith in our lives. Further, it is a vision of a world (or worlds) beyond our every day concerns, which is particularly fascinating because it was very much influenced by both Muslim and Catholic thoughts, beliefs and history.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The precursor to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, this is a good one to read (or re-read) in advance of the recent movie adaptation which is being directed by Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth). This is the foundation of it all, and this passage demonstrates the effect on all men (and dwarves) when faced with the prospect of power.

“Their mere fleeting glimpses of treasure which they had caught as they went along had rekindled all the fire of their dwarfish hearts; and when the heart of a dwarf, even the most respectable, is wakened by gold and by jewels, he grows suddenly bold, and he may become fierce.”

The Rough Riders by Theodore Roosevelt

Roosevelt’s own account of his experience commanding the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War. A great war history from a man who lived it himself. From his account, a man can learn what it means to be a true leader. TR set the example for his men and they followed because they simply respected him.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Considered by Steinbeck himself to be the work that he had been preparing for throughout his entire life. If you have had the chance to read this, or if anyone has ever talked about this book to you…perhaps you have been graced to read or even hear an excerpt from the legendary opening to Chapter 13:

Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man. It happens to nearly everyone. You can feel it growing or preparing like a fuse burning toward dynamite[...]Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished. And I guess a man’s importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories. It is a lonely thing but it relates us to the world. It is the mother of all creativeness, and it sets each man separate from all other men.

Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes

Written during the English Civil War, Hobbes’ work is one of the foremost authorities in political theory and contributed greatly to Enlightenment philosophy. Leviathan’s primary concern is the centralized power of the sovereign state existing to maintain order and peace both within and without. A valuable resource, as a man never knows when he is going to be commissioned with the task of forming a new government.

“In the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death.”

The Thin Red Line by James Jones

The author’s fictional depiction of the Guadalcanal Campaign during WWII. Portraying various wartime activities most would consider repulsive, Jones gives account without judgment. With the current events of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, this work is very relevant today.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

A satirical depiction of the social climate in the South just before the turn of the century, “Huck Finn” is largely considered to be the first Great American Novel. Twain’s take on the issue of racism and slavery was initially criticized upon publication and remains largely controversial to this day.

The Politics by Aristotle

From the man that gave pointers to Alexander the Great we can all take note. His writings created the first comprehensive system of philosophy, including morality and aesthetics, logic and science, politics, and metaphysics. Though it is thought that much of Aristotle’s work has been lost over the years, it is not a bad idea to take in the surviving words from one of the founding figures of Western Philosophy.

“Now if some men excelled others in the same degree in which gods and heroes are supposed to excel mankind in general… so that the superiority of the governors was undisputed and patent to their subjects, it would clearly be better that once for all the one class should rule and the others serve. But since this is unattainable, and kings have no marked superiority over their subjects… it is obviously necessary on many grounds that all the citizens alike should take their turn of governing and being governed.”

First Edition of the The Boy Scout Handbook

boy scout handbook

This is the book that started the Boy Scout movement. If you’re a former Boy Scout, you’ll be amazed at the amount of useful information the first edition manual has compared to Scout manuals today. In addition to teaching essential scouting skills, the first edition of the Boy Scout Handbook also includes stories of adventure and bravery that will excite and inspire any man.

Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand

A poet, musician, and expert swordsman. That is a true Renaissance Man. Unfortunately, Cyrano had a tragically large nose which affected his confidence enough to keep him from professing his love for the fair Roxanne, even on his deathbed. I wasn’t exaggerating when I used the word “tragic.” Also, one must respect the play responsible for introducing the word “panache” to the English language.

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

For its honest and graphic depiction of sex, this book was deemed “pornographic” by state courts upon its New York publishing in 1961. This ruling, however, was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court and the book became very influential in the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s.

The Crisis by Winston Churchill

A fictional Civil War era romance between a New England lawyer and a southern belle, written by the “American Churchill” but often mistaken for the British Prime Minister who shared the same name. Out of respect for the American’s work, the British Churchill offered to add his middle initial to any of his own published writings to avoid confusion.

The Naked and The Dead by Norman Mailer


Taking place in World War II, this is widely considered to be one of the best war novels ever written. As a young man, Mailer showed extraordinary insight into power relationships between the soldiers and their superiors. Further, the soldiers also deal with various degrees of compassion while fighting to maintain a belief in the capacity of humanity to be good while engaging in the brutality of war and being forced to follow orders against their ideals in some cases. A prime example of his superb insight into the workings of many systems and organizational structures, which is still relevant in today’s wars and corporations alike:

“To make an Army work you have to have every man in it fitted into a fear ladder… The Army functions best when you’re frightened of the man above you, and contemptuous of your subordinates.”

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{ 1216 comments… read them below or add one }

1201 Shmyt March 2, 2014 at 1:31 am

I find it would be prudent to make my recommendations before discussing the article’s:
I would say Joseph Conrad’s works are a must have (if they seem boring when you read the back cover just remember they inspired Apocalypse Now).
The Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind) is the epitome of a great story.
Forever Peace (the spiritual sequel by Joe Haldeman) is excellent and gives a very provoking discussion on war, peace, free will and what they cost.
Neuromancer by William Gibson is a rather small rather difficult to understand book that is an absolute must read.
A Song Of Ice And Fire (yeah…Game of Thrones, the hype is not for nothing, it is an amazing series of novels).
A good Russian author is Yevgeny Zamyatin, his novel We is the forerunner of dystopian literature and a great comment on society.
The full Lord of The Rings trilogy; the hobbit is a good start but it is only a small one; the full trilogy is a wonderful read for any age or degree of manliness.
Dune by Frank Herbert is THE science fiction book to read, if you read only one more fiction book choose dune for its amazing commentary on politics and religion framed with action, intrigue and philosophy (well not just one more, you will be compelled to read the sequels).
Along with the Illiad and Oddysea you should read one of the classic english epic tales: Beowulf
Grendel (John Gardener) it is beowulf from the perspective of the monster, masterfully written and serves as a complete how not to think or live your life guide with humor and philosophy abundant.
The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin; you need to know it, everyone does, it is the basis for so much scientific knowledge and research it would be foolish to leave it off of your reading list.
Mercy Among the Children David Adams Richards) this book will test you and might make you very angry or sad, a good read and some good philosophical points.

on Frankenstein: please stop giving everything the holywood green man with bolts in his neck portrayal; at its core Frankenstein is a novel at the very beginning of science fiction asking “what if?” then it shows you the answers; what if a man can be made by a man from men? what would that man be and what would that make me?
Atlas shrugged: I have read nearly every Ayn Rand novel i can find without troubling myself and i detest her work, it seems like a roadmap of a story where you follow along and go”yes yes i understand that” followed by “interesting point, elaborate?” then “hmmm i don’t know about this” “oh yes, that is logical, what?! how dare they!” “that doesn’t make much sense” “okay we are back on track” “wait, what? why did this just end with ‘therefore be a dick to anybody you want.’?” and to 1200 the answer is we fail to see her point because she does not make one that works; simply because stalinist russia was the opposite of what she advises does not make her ideal scenario any better than the USSR.
To kill a mockingbird: you hit the nail on the head with this one; too few people see the ‘n’ word in it too many times and drop it; it is a great work and an absolute must read on the need for good men to step up against all odds.
The Great Gatsby; must read, for anyone, male female, idiot or genius; it is the book that sums up the post war era and it is worth noting that the insights into the life of the rich is one meant to guide and warn, not to tempt.

I could go on much longer but i realise this comment will likely be deleted or lost to time so i’d rather not.

1202 Kyle March 2, 2014 at 4:35 pm

This article sure pushed some serious buttons with the lefties didn’t it? I agree with Marshall that the Ayn Rand haters missed the point of her philosophy and in my opinion those that think she’s a terrible writer are probably just terrible readers and not up to the challenge.

For the sake of adding something of value to the discussion though here are a few books I recommend at every opportunity:

Liberty Defined by Ron Paul
The Fairtax Book by Neil Boortz
The Real Lincoln by Thomas DiLorenzo

They’re all somewhat political in nature but great reads that have been very eye opening and influential in my life. I would also like to suggest much of the work by Milton Friedman and Noam Chomsky for those interested in developing thought patterns beyond the spoon-fed dribble of state-guided media that we have today.

1203 Bobby March 5, 2014 at 11:39 am

I’m suprised how lists like these always leave out A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burguess. Great book about maturity and becoming a man. Make sure you get the English/Unabridged version with 21 chapters (his american editor convinced him to cut out the 21st and most important chapter).

1204 C March 7, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Great list and I love that everyone shares their favorites…Here’s mine: Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry.

1205 Casper March 17, 2014 at 6:29 pm

It is a great list. If there is one book I could add it would be A Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.

1206 Michael March 19, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Great post. Since this is for men, an must read is: Wild at Heart written by John Eldredge.

1207 Chris Meservey March 20, 2014 at 2:05 pm

Great list and I was suprised to realize I read a good number of these as a youth. I was happy to see one of my favorite books of all time on there – The Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. Such a good read. In the spirit of adding a reccomendation I recently read “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson. A first hand account of a middle aged mans attempt at walking the entire length of the appalachian trail. A great read.

1208 rumspringa March 21, 2014 at 1:44 am

…because it’s just silly to think that a man’s life could be changed by too many female authors! I’m a voracious reader–a college English teacher, even–and a woman who grew up as a reader with The Cider House Rules (John Irving seems like a pretty glaring omission if you’re going to go all butch, btw). Three female authors really makes for an incomplete list. And what in the world is with the TR obsession? Yeah, an interesting life (I bought my Frye boots in part because they’re what he had the rough riders wear.) but seriously, there are other presidents.

1209 Gil March 25, 2014 at 9:02 am

Johnny got his gun.

I too read Atlas Shrugged, and I was deeply moved and saw the world in a different way. But then I turned 15 and realized that I wasn’t the only person on earth.

1210 JLV March 26, 2014 at 9:06 pm

I am wondering why The Old Man and the Sea didn’t make this list.

1211 Juan March 27, 2014 at 1:49 am

I might have missed it, but what about Thucydides’ “The History of the Peloponnesian War?”

1212 Loukay March 31, 2014 at 3:11 pm

Young Men and Fire

1213 Evan S. March 31, 2014 at 10:32 pm

Well, at age 16 I’m glad to have at least read 14 of the books on the list, but I do need to buckle down and continue my literary education. I was glad to see The Art of War, and suggest adding Tao te Ching, The Old Man and the Sea, The Trial and Death of Socrates, The Poetic Edda and Gates of Fire to the list.

1214 Evan S. March 31, 2014 at 10:35 pm

Also forgot to mention Noam Chomsky…his work has influenced my political philosophy more than any other thinker.

1215 Derek C April 7, 2014 at 7:26 pm

Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead are great books. I agree that her “philosophy” can be tough to swallow, but I also agree that most of our motives boil down to selfishness/self interest. If you are completely honest with yourself, you have to agree.

It is hard to add to this list, most of my favorite books are on here.
How about Beowulf. It is a great story, and one of the oldest examples of european folklore and story telling. A glimpse into pre-christian european history.

1216 Daniel April 8, 2014 at 7:06 pm

they should add Think and grow rich by Napolean Hill to this list

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